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November 29th 2010 print

Bill Muehlenberg

More rock star duplicity

Bono can do what he wants. It's his life. But a bit less preaching would be nice. Especially if he insists on living like King Tut.

I have written before about our celebrity shams who preach one thing but do another. There are plenty of examples of the Hollywood set, the rock culture crowd, media elites, airhead celebrities, and TV personalities who preach their leftwing gospel, yet time and again live a quite different lifestyle.

Consider for example Avatar film maker James Cameron. He has told people they must sacrifice and cut down on their fancy lifestyles so that we can save the planet. Gotta watch out for all those nasty CO2 emissions. But what he doesn’t’ tell us is how he is living it up, complete with:

  • 3 houses in Malibu (24,000 sq ft in total – 10 times the average U.S. home),
  • a 100-acre ranch in Santa Barbara,
  • a JetRanger helicopter,
  • three Harleys,
  • a Corvette,
  • a Ducati,
  • a Ford GT,
  • a collection of dirt bikes,
  • a yacht,
  • a Humvee firetruck,
  • a fleet of submarines…

But hey, what’s a little extravagance when you’re on a mission to save the world. There are plenty of other Hollywood celebs and bigwigs who love preaching to us peons about how we all gotta do our bit to stop global warming, and to resist the greed of nasty American capitalism – but all the while they are soaking in their millions, and living it up big time.

A more recent example is uber rock star Bono. He and his band U2 have just come to Australia, and they are not doing anything by half measures. By their own estimates, this will be the most expensive rock extravaganza ever. Big bickies will be spent on this concert tour, with no expense spared. And they positively gloat about this.

Here is how one media report covers the story: “U2′S 360 Degrees tour, the most expensive rock spectacle ever, is here. The tour, with a daily running cost of $850,000, arrived on six 747 jets to be assembled by a crew of 130. ‘You compare a tour by the number of trucks they use,’ production manager Jake Berry said. ‘The Rolling Stones ran 46 trucks. We are running 55. This is the biggest.’ The centrepiece of 360 is a so-called claw, an imposing bug-like structure that houses 200 tonnes of light, sound and video magic.”

The article continues, “In terms of box office receipts, 360 is doing very well. It took $123 million to be the highest grossing tour of 2009. A back injury flattened the band’s lead singer, Bono, and tour profits, for most of this year. 360 resumed in August with sellout dates across Europe. US dates are scheduled next year.

“U2′s manager, Paul McGuinness, confirmed the $850,000 daily running cost of 360. ‘That’s the overhead cost of being out here whether we play or not,’ McGuinness said. ‘It’s important we play regularly. There is a discipline involved. ‘Even though we’re spending a lot of money, we’re making a lot of money.’ McGuinness knows 360 is a new model for stadium rock. ‘We’ve always done landmark productions, or so we think,’ he said. ‘Being able to play in the round, in stadiums, is the holy grail’.”

An earlier article on the band reported what a successful business this is: “Bono’s empire encompasses real estate, private-equity investments, a hotel, a clothing line and a chain of restaurants. Along with fellow band members, he also owns a stake in 15 companies and trusts, including concert-booking agencies, record production firms and trusts that are mostly registered in Ireland. U2 was one of the first successful bands in the world to have obtained all rights to its own music.”

And seeking to avoid paying taxes seems to be part of all this: “Richard Murphy, a Downham Market, U.K.-based adviser to the Tax Justice Network, an international lobbying group … points to the band’s decision to move its music publishing company to the Netherlands from Ireland in June 2006 in order to minimize taxes. The move came six months before Ireland ended an exemption on musicians’ royalty income, which is generally untaxed in the Netherlands.

“‘This is somebody who’s exceptionally rich taking the opportunity to shift his tax burden to somebody else, but then asking governments around the world to spend that tax take in the way that he would like,’ Murphy says. U2′s move to the Netherlands is wrong, says Dick Molenaar, senior partner at All Arts Tax Advisers, a Rotterdam-based tax consulting firm for artists and musicians. ‘Everybody needs to pay his fair share of taxation to the government, and therefore we have roads and education and everything,’ he says. During the 1990s, U2 used nonexecutive directors who were resident in an offshore tax haven to limit the amount paid by the four band members.”

Now I have nothing against fancy rock concerts as such. I used to dig rock concerts back in my more wild days, and enjoyed watching the Grateful Dead or the Jefferson Airplaine or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I must say tickets were a bit cheaper back then.

And legitimate tax minimisation schemes are not necessarily problematic either. But what I do find a bit off putting is when these filthy rich aging rockers lecture the rest of us about our responsibilities to save the world. It always seems a bit hypocritical for these superstars to tell us to sacrifice so we can save the planet or some poor African child, while they are living the really good life.

So how much polluting emissions will these six 747s be putting out? And couldn’t all that money to provide 55 trucks and all the rest be used a bit more wisely if these guys are so worried about helping the poor? I have often said that if Bono simply sold his collection of designer sun glasses, he could probably help feed a few African villages for a year or two.

But hey, its his life – he can do what he wants. But a bit less preaching would be nice. Especially if he insists on living like King Tut.